I've just returned from not-so-sunny Devon - I'm assured the sun makes a big difference down in the South West - which is just as well, since I'll be spending part of this summer in the county working on a commission I was invited to take on a few weeks ago by Devon County Council and Double Elephant Print Workshop. It may have been damp and wet on my arrival for my first site visit in Exeter but I was warmly welcomed by the team at Double Elephant who showed me around the studio where I will be producing a series of screen-prints for the Politics in Print commission, inspired by the incredible collections at the Devon Record Office. I must say a huge thank you to both Katherine and John at the Record Office for their time and patience with someone like me who was in absolute awe of the James Bond-esque archive rooms (the ones where blocks of adjoining shelves move all in unison with a slight twist of a wheel... amazing!). I'll be working closely with them throughout my time in Exeter looking at political documents as early as 1590. A few highlights of the afternoon was seeing a letter by 1st Viscount Nelson in his own hand - of which he only had the one at that time - written only a few months before his death as well as political correspondence from Henry Addington who was Prime Minister in the early nineteenth-century. I will be documenting the commission at every stage before the run-up to the exhibition in September through my blog so be sure to come back for more updates.
Until then, here's a few encounters I came across during my stay... Double Elephant Print Studio is located in the town's creative centre, Exeter Phoenix - an Arts House with a nice vibe and a great gallery space. Currently on display are works by Anne Gathmann and Fiona MacDonald in A Point In The Field who both deal with themes of uncertainty and the ambiguity of our relation to reality in the natural world. Gathmann's works on paper act as architectural interventions, creating fragile spaces and invitations for exploration with works on the wall, floor and on simple sculptural forms. This simplicity complements the hyper-organic creations by MacDonald that resemble plant structures and microscopic organisms that washes across the canvas in cool colorways. I particularly liked her miniature sculptures that pay reference to the great tablueax of Goya and Titian with a dripping silicone quality that mirrored the fluid style of her two-dimensioanl works.
A Point In The Field installation - Fiona MacDonald
Aggregate, 2010 - Anna Gathmann
Yesterday I decided to head down Exmouth-way to the coast and with the sun trying very hard to make an appearance, I stumbled across A La Ronde on the outskirts of Exmouth. This National Trust property is one of the most peculiar and unique in its portfolio due to its sixteen-sided design. Completed in 1796, the house was the vision of Jane and Mary Parminter, wealthy spinster cousins who had the hexadecagon home built for them on their return from a ten-year Grand Tour of Europe. It is said it was the Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy that inspired the cousins to build their twenty-room home looking down onto the bay in this fashion. The home's purpose however, was not solely a home, the interior is an example of carpentry and woodwork at its best with cupboards and seating that swing and slide open from internal walls and corridors.
The attention to detail has lead historians to think that regular builders of the era would not have had such expertise and therefore, it is said the Parminter cousins instructed local boatbuilders of Exmouth for their skill and craftsmanship to create the unique shape with space and functionality. When the sun finally decided to shine, it was obvious that the hexadecagon design made sense. All the rooms (apart from the fifty-four foot octagonal hall in the centre of the house) were adjoining, allowing the cousins to move from one sun-lit room to another throughout the day. If the exterior and internal structures were deemed extraordinary, then I could only imagine what visitors to the house of the time must have thought as I traveled from room to room following the sun. A La Ronde is a tribute to the Parminter's taste and sheer eclecticism for the exotic - every room is filled with objects and hand-made works that include bird feathers that decorate the cornices to minuscule paper cuttings and portrait silhouettes. But the decoration that must have been incredibly satisfying for these ladies of leisure has to be The Shell Gallery that sits at the top of the house. Created with nearly twenty-five thousand shells, pieces of mirror and feathers, the encrusted gallery was to represent the bottom of the ocean while the hall, draped in marine linen with painted walls was to resemble water to create a surreal topsy-turvey statement. The Parminter cousins were revolutionary to say the least and if you ever find yourself on Devon's coastline, be sure to experience a dose of eighteenth-century eclecticism for yourself.
Visit A La Ronde at Summer Lane, Exmouth, Devon EX8 5BD or click here for more information.